Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Award

Spring 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


School of Communication Studies


Peter Bsumek


This project offers a critical rhetorical history of “the nonprofit” over the last 50 years of American political discourses. The author explicates the value of genealogy and rhetorical history as methodologies in critical communication studies. She then examines three discursive junctures. Beginning with Ronald Reagan’s public addresses and his deployment of the neoliberal epideictic, the author traces different rhetorical treatments of “the nonprofit.” The author then examines the emergence of nonprofit watchdogging agencies in the 1990s, and discourses of surveillance and resistance that developed at this time. Particular attention is paid to the discursive shifts surrounding September 11, 2001.

The author discusses how rhetorical trends have conditioned contemporary conversations surrounding social service provision and social change, and the political implications of this current juncture. Finally, the project addresses contemporary rhetorics of nonprofit resistance and the advocacy movement for “de-nonprofitization.” The author offers an archive to scholars and activists by presenting a history of “the nonprofit” as a centerpiece of American politics and American identities.